UK Liberty

Honest belief at Stockwell

Posted in de Menezes by ukliberty on October 29, 2008

The Stockwell inquest has in the previous three days heard evidence from the two firearms officers who shot Jean Charles de Menezes: C12 and C2 (C for Charlie).  

There was some detail early on about where all the firearms officers were at particular times and the suggestion that they may have been in a position to prevent de Menezes from entering the tube station but had not been authorised to do so (indeed one of the issues coming out of the inquest is that the control room didn’t seem to be aware of where everyone was – they didn’t have a map, for example, that showed locations).

What I was particularly interested in is the question of honest belief: what information coming to your brain (what you are being told over the radio, what your colleagues are doing, what the suspect is doing and so on) helps form an honest belief that someone is an imminent threat to your life and the lives of others?

Now it is clear that you can quite easily look at individual components (“the male stood up…”) and dismiss them individually as being insufficient to form an honest belief – so it is the sum of the components that needs to be considered.

But what concerns me is that any member of the public might act just as de Menezes did, and even though his actions are entirely innocent, because of the situation the police are in and the information they have been given, anything he does might contribute to forming an honest belief that he is a threat, and he may wind up being killed.

(That is aside from Mr Mansfield QC’s suggestion that while the officers honestly believed de Menezes had been positively identified as one of the suicide bombers from the previous day, they did not honestly believe he “presented an immediate and mortal threat to himself and to other people in the vicinity”.)

The ammunition they were issued with, for example – the 9mm hollow point ammunition.  Take the following line of questioning of C12, too:


Q. There is no dispute, apparently, that you honestly believed that the man on the train had been positively identified as one of the suicide bombers from the previous day; you understand that?

A. I understand that, sir.

Q. Does that increase the assessment of the level of threat or decrease it?

A. It increases it, sir.

Q. The fact, as we know, that these individuals — and it’s accepted — were deadly and determined, does that increase or decrease the level of threat?

A. It increases it, sir. 

Q. The fact that you were told that they had access to bombs and that they could be concealed about the body of an individual without anyone seeing them, did that increase or decrease the level of threat?

A. Again it increases it, sir.

Q. The fact that the devastation from these bombs could kill a large number of people — which you would have obviously known from 7 July, as every member of the public would have known — did that increase the level of threat or decrease it?

A. Again, increase it, sir.

Q. The fact that his hands were held in a particular way, did that increase your fears or decrease them?

A. Again, increase.

Q. His movement in advancing towards you, did that increase the level of threat or decrease it?

A. Increase.

Q. The grabbing by Ivor, did that increase the level of threat or decrease it?

A. It was certainly —

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Do you mean that, or the fact that Ivor grabbed him?

MR STERN: The fact that Ivor grabbed him.

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: Not the fact that he did grab him —

MR STERN: No. The fact that he had perceived —

SIR MICHAEL WRIGHT: — but the fact that Ivor was motivated to intervene.

MR STERN: That’s a much more eloquent way of putting it, sir. 


MR STERN: When you raised your weapon or shouted “armed police”, and he continued to advance towards you, did that increase your threat assessment or decrease it?

A. It increased it and, as I have said previously in evidence, that to me, then, that was the point of no return.

Where are our MPs?

Posted in database state, law and order, politicians on liberty, surveillance society by ukliberty on October 29, 2008

Henry Porter in the Guardian:

Where is parliament? When will MPs step up to defend the liberties that are seized from the British public every day in what has now become the most serious attack on constitutional rights that this country has ever suffered?

Last week GCHQ and the Home Office were arguing that £12bn of taxpayers’ money should be spent to collect data from every internet connection, phone call and email made in this country. This week we learn that police will be issued with mobile fingerprint scanners to allow offices to carry out identity checks on people in the street.

Neither has been debated in parliament and it seems certain this latest measure – like the creation of the Police National DNA database and the new Automatic Number Plate Recognition system – never will be, even though it must be obvious that the deployment of this device on the streets profoundly affects the rights of citizens to go about their business without being forced to prove who they are and what they are doing. …

I think it’s worth looking in detail at portions of a particular comment on this article:

speedkermit Oct 28 08, 12:49am

Where is parliament? When will MPs step up to defend the liberties that are seized from the British public every day in what has now become the most serious attack on constitutional rights that this country has ever suffered?

Nothing like starting with a gross exaggeration. More serious than ‘shoot to kill’ or WWII internment or attacks on picketing miners or the criminalisation of homosexuality? Get a grip.

I think this is important in that we need to look at the attacks on liberty in their totality as well as individually.  There was never a golden age of liberty in this country (well, not since we have lived together in towns and cities, I suspect) but it is certainly the case that the last eleven years have seen a sustained assault on our liberties.  In that sense, while attacking miners is very serious, I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that the totality of these proposals are a serious attack on our constitutional rights. 

The police argue that fingerprint data will not be kept. But how are we to know?

You are suggesting that the government will be requiring the police to conspire with them to subvert the clear will of Parliament as enacted under PACE. Do you seriously believe that this technology has been approved for use without anyone at the Home Office thinking to confirm whether it complies with statute law?

Well, until s82 Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 came into effect, retention of fingerprint and sample evidence was unlawful (under s64(3) Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984), yet the police retained the evidence.  I make no claim about the merits or otherwise of the retention of such evidence (it has certainly proved useful but its proportionality is disputed) – what I think is interesting is the assumption that neither the government nor the police would ever do anything unlawful, and not something found unlawful after the fact (e.g. after a court case) but something plainly unlawful according to the very clear law at the time.

(As an aside, the case of LS & Marper may be of interest, and it’s worth noting that it is being appealed before the European Court on Human Rights (although it is called S & Marper), the judgement to be handed down in November, if I recall correctly.)

There is no statutory basis for the ANPR – how on earth can it be reasonable to set up such a mass surveillance system with no debate or consultation with the public?  It might be of obvious value to speedkermit, but I think we should have at least a discussion about it.

And anyway that is not the point. In a free society, every individual has the right to move about without being asked to prove him or herself to the state.

Those suspected of offences have no such right. Failure to provide a name and address in such circumstances can and does result in arrest. Continued non-compliance can result in remand for the next available court, where a magistrate or judge will not hesitate to order you to be kept in custody until you provide the required details. Bail cannot be granted to the anonymous offender.

But people aren’t only stopped on the basis of reasonable suspicion – there is, for example, a rolling authorisation granted every 28 days to make the entire London metropolitan police district an area where people may be stopped and searched under s44 Terrorism Act 2000. (Andy Hayman, a senior counter-terrorism officer at the time, questioned the value of it.)

Now and again someone proposes that we should be obliged to give our names and addresses in such circumstances.  So what Mr Porter is suggesting is wholly conceivable.

It is the sine qua non of a functioning democratic society yet we are letting this principle slip without a single voice being raised in parliament. I repeat: where the hell are our elected representatives? Why do they not defend us?

Has it ever occurred to you that Parliament has remained silent because it has done its homework and realises that mobile scanning is a damn good idea that will save the police no end of time?

I think that even if Parliament ‘agrees’* on a proposal , it would be good to have a debate and a statutory basis for these things.  And, after all, isn’t that a purpose of our elected representatives, to not just blindly agree with everything the Government proposes, but rather to discuss, refine, and reject? Not to mention that many Government proposals are things that have been tried (and deemed to fail) elsewhere.

My only problem with Mr Porter’s article is that it is very easy to characterise the whole of Parliament as being supine, but it is really the Government’s majority (and occasional deals with, for example, the DUP) that allows it to win the day: it seems to have a number of mindless drones who vote Aye to any Labour proposal and idiots who think saving Gordon Brown is more important than, say, detention without charge, even if they disagree with him.

I would refine Mr Porter’s questions: I would ask, where are the Labour MPs and candidates who genuinely care about civil liberties?   When will Labour MPs stand  up to defend our liberties?

There are only about 20-30 of Labour MPs who do care.  They are, sadly, not nearly enough.  


* scare quotes around ‘agrees’ because divisions can be won with only a majority of one.)

Millions of people affected by data breaches in the past year

Posted in database state, surveillance society by ukliberty on October 29, 2008

The Independent:

An investigation by the information watchdog has found that in the past year, millions of people have been affected by nearly 300 serious breaches of data protection laws across central government and the private sector.

Cases include the loss or misuse of sensitive information about patients, service personnel, police, prison officers and the victims of domestic violence.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, will say today that in some instances lives may have been placed at risk, and he calls on ministers and chief executives to end the routine collection of data without ensuring proper safeguards are in place.

But speaking in London today Mr Thomas will say: “The more databases that are set up and the more information exchanged, the greater the risk of things going wrong.” Mr Thomas warns that the soaring number of data breaches since HM Revenue and Customs lost 25 million child benefit records in November last year shows that holding data creates “toxic liabilities”.

He adds: “The more you centralise data collection, the greater the risk of multiple records going missing or wrong decisions about real people being made. The more you lose the trust and confidence of customers and the public, the more your prosperity and standing will suffer. Put simply, holding huge collections of personal data brings significant risks.”